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We’ve worked with dozens of teams and have been involved in paying hundreds of people over the years. Using our experiences and deep market research, we narrowed it down to the five best online payroll services available. In doing so, we identified Gusto as the best payroll solution for most because it supports all types of employees and contractors, is dead simple to use, and you get the most bang for your buck.
The Best Online Payroll Service for Most Businesses
Gusto is our #1 recommendation for most users (it’s also what we use, here at Crazy Egg). From an employee and employer standpoint, online payroll doesn’t get much easier than it is with Gusto. Plus, every plan includes full-service payroll, employee self-service accounts, PTO policies, and world-class customer support.
Paid plans start at just $19 per month + $6 per employee per month. Sign up and get started automating your payroll processes today!
The 5 Best Online Payroll Services Options to Consider
- Gusto – Best online payroll service for most businesses
- QuickBooks – Best for integrating with QuickBooks Accounting
- ADP – Best for startups and fast-growth companies
- SurePayroll – Best for household employees
- Payroll4Free.com – Best free online payroll service
#1 – Gusto — The Best Online Payroll Service for Most Businesses
Gusto is an excellent online payroll solution for businesses of all shapes and sizes, from sole proprietors to large teams with hundreds of employees. It’s our top recommendation—for good reason.
With it, you get everything you need to start automating your payroll runs, onboarding new employees, and simplifying tax time.
From tax payments to year-end filings, Gusto lets you manage everyone’s tax documents electronically. This saves you time and money, while also eliminating the possibility of something important getting lost in the mail and holding up things for your employees.
Or worse. A costly human error with manual tax preparation.
Once you load your information into the system, you can set it to run payroll automatically. So, you can stop manually paying your team and manually tracking the associated taxes, too.
Plus, every time you hire a new employee, you can easily add them to your new payroll system. Furthermore, Gusto offers a complete onboarding process, so your new employees feel right at home.
And you don’t have to lift a finger.
Overall, Gusto is a modern solution to processing payroll online and it’s perfect for solopreneurs and microbusinesses looking for a better way to run payroll and manage tax payments.
Gusto offers four plans to choose from, including one for contractors, and an introductory beta plan starting at $19 + $6 per employee per month.
So, for $25 per month you can start automating your payroll processes, reducing manual entry errors, and seamlessly onboarding new employees in just a few clicks.
#2 – QuickBooks — The Best for Knocking Out Payroll & Accounting in One Step
QuickBooks is an incredibly popular accounting software. However, it’s online payroll software creates a seamless relationship between your payroll and accounting processes.
Which… is exactly how it should be. Integrating the two means:
- Fewer costly mistakes
- Less time spent consolidating your accounts
- Enhanced overall business organization
- Happier employees
As such, it’s an excellent choice if you already use QuickBooks for accounting, or if you plan to use it at some point in the future.
Getting started is easy, and you get a wide range of step-by-step tutorials to streamline the setup process. Furthermore, it takes just a few minutes to get everything up and running.
As with Gusto, Quickbooks helps automate and digitize your tax payment processes. From monthly tax payments to year-end filings and preparation, you get everything you need to stay compliant and up to date.
All without printing out a single sheet of paper (hello environment).
Plus, you also get industry-leading direct deposit speeds with funds showing up in your team’s accounts no later than the next business day.
On top of that, you can also get other features and benefits, including:
- Personalized HR support
- Tax penalty protection
- Time tracking tools
- Benefits management
- Advanced analytics and reporting
Plus, you get to pick and choose the features you need without having to pay for things you’re never going to use.
With that said, QuickBooks Online Payroll was built to integrate directly with its own accounting software. So, if you use something else, you may find that integration a bit challenging.
When it comes to pricing, QuickBooks has something for everyone. Paid plans start at $22.50 + $4 per employee per month with a 30-day free trial. This plan includes full-service payroll so you get everything you need.
If you already use Quickbooks for accounting, you can easily add payroll services right inside your account in just a few clicks.
Plus, you can enjoy a 30-day free trial to see if it’s a good fit for your team.
#3 – ADP — The Best for Avoiding Payroll Growing Pains
From the start of your communication with ADP they are finding out ways to customize your experience. They instantly want to know the number of employees you have so they can tailor your plan just for what you need and nothing you don’t.
A major problem small business owners face, that may not look like a problem, is surges in customer growth, practically overnight. This requires you to hire more staff which in turn requires adjustments to how you handle timesheets, benefits and payroll.
This is great for business and growth, but a pain in the neck when you are not sure how to include all the new data, and what steps to take in order to keep you from falling behind somewhere else because of managing the new additions and growth in your business. ADP solves that with automation and proven processes. Add new employees, and tax information in a few minutes.
Payroll can be where you start, but services like recruiting and benefit management are also available as you keep scaling. And you can easily get in touch with a payroll or HR expert 24/7, meaning you don’t have to navigate anything on your own or wait several days for help.
You can also leverage ADP’s App Store to further customize HR packages and integration options as your business grows and your online payroll needs change. Because each plan is completely customized to match your business, pricing isn’t available online. And you have to call ADP to get a quote. This means it may take longer to start implementing your online payroll software since you can’t start using it right away.
For scaling companies interested in doing business with a well-known provider that offers a variety of solutions, ADP is a good choice.
#4 – SurePayroll — The Best Worry-Free Guarantee for Small Business Taxes
SurePayroll allows you to get set up in minutes and start running your very own payroll with ease. This is extremely powerful for small business owners, and also gives you an upper hand with being a mobile service as well. But what makes SurePayroll especially unique is their risk free guarantee on paying business taxes.
There are two levels of payroll services you can use. The first is self service and the other is full service, no matter what you select you are backed by the most incredible guarantees. You are promised a no penalty tax guarantee as well as a tax calculation guarantee.
The full service service payroll guarantee allows you to focus on payroll and keep the complexities of taxes out of site. SurePayroll will handle the trickery that is tax preparation. The full service plan offers full tax preparation—calculation, filing, payments and any penalties associated with your business are covered.
With the self service payroll plan your taxes are calculated to perfection or any penalties you incur from the IRS are paid in full by SurePayroll, they will even be a direct point of contact with the IRS agency—making sure to leave your business out of it.
For more than 20 years, SurePayroll has been serving small businesses in every industry imaginable. SurePayroll designed its service to be simple, cost-effective, and straightforward to suit this specific situation.
Top features include:
- Run payroll anytime, from anywhere: With SurePayroll, you can run payroll from a computer, smartphone, or tablet. As long as you have internet access, you can get the job done.
- Full-service and self-service options: With full-service, SurePayroll takes over the entire process on your behalf. With self-service, you’re responsible for inputting the data necessary to run payroll.
- Tax filing guarantee: We discussed this above.
SurePayroll customer service and support are not trapped in the past either, with phone, chat, and email options for contacting an experienced payroll professional anytime you need help along the way.
In regards to price, SurePayroll requires you to complete the quote form on its website for more information.
Cost depends on the number of employees and whether you choose full-service or self-service.
Remember SurePayroll is designed for small businesses. Even though mid to large-sized businesses can use the service, it’s features are geared more toward those with 100 employees or less. Keep this in mind when you are looking.
If tax preparation is important to you and you run a small business, definitely give SurePayroll a strong look.
#5 – Payroll4Free.com — The Best Feature-Rich Free Forever Software
This is one of the best ways to use a payroll service if you are on a very tight budget and need accurate tax preparation, direct deposit options for your team or even the ability to print checks.
Payroll4Free solves the problems you have regarding payroll and works well enough to where you have no problems continuing to use it.
Along with the features mentioned above you can also track vacation time. As you continue along in this article, you will recognize Payroll4Free is incredibly feature rich for being a freemium service.
A basic level payroll provider like this would usually charge a minimum of $30-40 a month and usually a per employee cost too. And you are using it for free.
Plus you get stellar customer service that gives you the full service treatment; talk to a live person that knows everything about the software to solve your problem quickly.
The small business start and mindset shines through in customer support as they always make you a top priority. As a smaller online payroll service, Payroll4Free.com is able to provide above-average customer support via email and phone.
You also have integration with quickbooks and can import your current data or even export your data to banks, and other software providers you use if you need to.
Payroll4Free is always free for up to 25 employees. They are able to do so by placing ads inside the software you use to run payroll.
Yes, it can be distracting, so keep this in mind. But, it’s a good tradeoff if you’re looking to save.
Top features of Payroll4Free.com include:
- Free for up to 25 employees: As long as you have 25 employees or fewer, Payroll4Free.com is always free.
- Variety of free add-ons: You can do more than run payroll with Payroll4Free.com. Add-ons include a payroll calculator, employee portal, and detailed reporting.
- Direct deposit or paper check: Let your employees choose, so you can pay them the way they want.
We also love the available employee dashboard. You can also review detailed reporting regarding your payroll to help you make data driven decisions. Although it lags behind the competition in some key areas, Payroll4Free.com is 100% free. And for many, that’ll always be enough.
If you’re on a budget, go with Payroll4Free.com.
When Does It Make Sense to Invest In Online Payroll Services?
Regardless if you have one employee or 100+, payroll compliance is extremely important. Not only does it ensure that your employees get paid on time and in full, but it also helps protect against costly penalties.
Whether you rely on a payroll service is a personal decision. You don’t have to use an online service, but you do have to maintain compliance with all local, state, and federal tax agencies.
It makes sense to invest in an online payroll service if you want:
- To avoid the time-consuming process of running payroll yourself
- To ensure accuracy
- Someone on your side who can help you maintain compliance
- A service that provides your employees with important information and answers to their questions
For those who are on the fence, comparing the pros, cons, and features of multiple services can help you decide if it’s the right decision.
Methodology For Choosing The Best Online Payroll Service
There is no right or wrong way to evaluate online payroll services, but some details deserve more attention than others. We focused on a variety of factors to ensure a comprehensive breakdown of each, with a focus on:
One-and-Done Data Entry
Imagine only having to do confirmation for your payroll services once, and it was set for future entries—no redundant tasks for you, and it would keep you from wasting time pecking away at your keyboard.
This is what you want to look for when selecting a payroll provider.
You want automation, integration and a provider that focuses on removing error prone situations by eliminating manual data entry over and over.
When you have to add the same data into your software in three different locations to confirm its addition to the system, you should be concerned. This should not give you a sense of satisfaction that your provider is thorough, instead, this means they are behind the times and need better software checks and balances.
As a small business owner you don’t want to have to add your employees weekly payroll manually each and every time—importing and exporting data.
For a moment consider what this will do to your managers that have a team of 15, or even 20.
When you have software that’s inefficient, it leads to burnout from your managers, it can cause people to cut corners, and that leads to inaccurate payroll figures and other errors you want to avoid.
Remember this methodology when selecting your provider. When you improve this one area of payroll services you can save you hundreds of working hours each year, because being late to your kids soccer game because of payroll is not cool.
Technology Promises That Don’t Miss the Mark
Whenever you are promised something and don’t get it, you feel shorted in a way. Even if it’s slightly. When you are paying for a service and you don’t get what was promised the feeling is intensified.
Too many providers promise 21st century technology but in actuality are still stuck in the 20th century. And because most users have newer computers and browsers it makes it harder for users to use their software. For example, some users can’t navigate software because their browser is not compatible with the payroll service software.
Adding to this problem, other providers will have semi-functioning technology or a complex user interface because it’s old, lack customization and don’t work with different technologies you may be currently using. Some platforms can be glitchy, signing employees in and out without them knowing causing even more complications.
When you decide to use online payroll services you want state of the art technology and integration that actually works. You want to be able to integrate your POS systems, along with other accounting software; that makes importing and exporting data push-button. The providers on this list have excellent integration applications to give you all that you need to give your business a new seamless workflow.
Things like tracking time, updated schedules and managing services through your CRM should also be available to you. Having mobile applications that work seamlessly, giving employees and administrators clear communication through the platform from anywhere need to be tested by you or your team early on.
When you select the provider best for your business, test all the services you feel your business will use the most. Make sure applications are fully functional and can be proven that they work, read reviews about those features, and clearly understand your trial period and what occurs when canceling if you’re not satisfied.
Customer Support Should Help, Right?
Problems will arise, and when they do you want to feel confident you are getting the written answers.
If you have an issue and have to talk to several people to get anything resolved your blood may begin to boil.You don’t want a company that has to bounce you around to different reps because each segment of the company is split into a jigsaw puzzle.
And this is frustrating when you begin to deal with reps that know less about the system than you do. Imagine having a conversation where you have to walk the rep through how to do something—not a very comforting feeling when you are paying for a service that you are depending on for important financial and HR management.
And this is a terrible recurring nightmare when everytime you call you get a new person and have to re-explain yourself.
Look for a customer support team that has follow up notes, and possibly a way to search your conversation or the current problem that you’re working on. Top tier support is what keeps you happy when using software. There are always problems, but how quickly they get resolved is what matters most.
Talk to customer service, ask questions about the services they offer, even if you are not a customer. This is a great way to see how they handle themselves and if they only care that you are a customer. When you have complex areas like recruitment, payroll and other HR related services you need a support team that is patient and likes to help. Taking the time to call them and see how they handle common problems, gives you a preview into how you will be treated.
Plus some providers give you a designated support administrator that provides you with a concierge type focus, making sure you have help at all times, and one point of contact.
Accurate Tax Preparation
When you run a business, and it’s global or spread out over multiple states, tax preparation can be an absolute nightmare. Setting up state taxes is complicated and getting it right the first time without having to pay an accountant a mini fortune is just as rare.
That’s until now. Many payroll providers offer tax services, taking the guesswork out of it all. But you must do your homework because some providers say they have you covered, but don’t do all the filing, the paperwork, or help you if mistakes are made when calculating your taxes. Some have even filed late causing penalties and liens placed on businesses.
Tax penalties can take your life’s work and crumble it like stale bread in between your finger tips. You pay these providers to handle this so you don’t have too.
If you want this service it’s important you understand the process inside and out, so you are not stuck paying for lawyer fees to get your business off the naughty list with the IRS.
That is why you want to know exactly what guidelines are set in place for your business and your payroll provider when they are filing your taxes.
Here are a few questions to consider and ask yourself when finding a provider that is trustworthy to handle your yearly tax preparation on autopilot:
- What confirmation do you get to show they are preparing the financials for you?
- When will your taxes be filed?
- Is there a foolproof process in place if you are threatened or incur fees from the IRS?
- How is the process performed, monthly, quarterly, yearly?
- Will you be responsible for filing the financials and forms, or do they do it all?
- Is there a guarantee?
These are important questions and several providers on this list make tax prep a snap, and even offer guarantees, for self and full-preparation of your taxes.
But if you choose to go outside of this methodology, we recommend you ask yourself these questions. They will provide you a solid guide if you decide to use the tax preparation service an online payroll provider offers.
However, there are other high-quality options to choose from.
So, don’t forget to use the methodology outlined above as you go through the process of choosing the best online payroll service for your business.